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Is overexposure to Trump virus briefings a hazard?

President Donald Trump at a White House briefing

President Donald Trump at a White House briefing Wednesday. Credit: AP / Alex Brandon

Newsday is opening this story to all readers so Long Islanders have access to important information about the coronavirus outbreak. All readers can learn the latest news at newsday.com/LiveUpdates.

Telemedicine by Trump

President Donald Trump's daily coronavirus briefings are drawing big ratings, with viewer numbers rivaling the season finale of “The Bachelor,” but public health officials worry that's exposing the audience to misinformation with no real-time reality check, The New York Times reports.

The president has suggested that the death toll from COVID-19 is comparable to that of influenza, which is far less lethal, or car wrecks. He has touted medications that have yet to be proved effective against the virus.

Trump has seen the opportunity to use the briefings as a political platform, now that his campaign rallies have been shut down, mixing self-congratulation and optimism with shots at critics and his usual foes, The Associated Press reported. The sessions often go on for rally length — around 90 minutes — but when two cable networks on Monday didn't stick with it through the end, White House spokesman Judd Deere complained on Twitter: "Pretty disgraceful that @CNN and @MSNBC have both cut away from this @WhiteHouse briefing with @realDonaldTrump and @Mike_Pence during a global pandemic."

Network producers and correspondents say there is often some internal debate about whether to carry the president’s appearances live and unfiltered, the Times writes. But given the intensity of the national crisis, many executives have concluded there is no justification for preventing Americans from hearing directly from the president and his top health officials.

MSNBC host Rachel Maddow said on the air this week: “If it were up to me, and it’s not, I would stop putting those briefings on live TV. Not out of spite, but because it’s misinformation." But ironically, the gatherings in the briefing room have brought back the kind of exchanges that have been absent for more than a year, the Daily Beast noted.

An "NBC News insider" told the Daily Beast: "Let’s remember that the White House press corps absolutely torched the Trump White House for eliminating the daily briefings. Now there’s a high-profile daily press briefing that often includes the president and vice president, so you can’t have it both ways.”

A significant portion of a worried country is looking to Trump to keep up with coronavirus news. A CBS News poll on Tuesday said that 90% of Republicans trusted Trump for accurate information about the pandemic; only 14% of Democrats shared that trust.

A media plot?

Trump's own public health officials have cautioned that his new aspiration of easing pandemic-fighting restrictions by Easter, April 12, may be unrealistic. Other medical professionals call the notion "dangerous" and "immoral" because of the untold lives that could be put at risk.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the federal government's top infectious diseases official, offered a gentler caution on CNN Wednesday night: "You don't make the timeline. The virus makes the timeline."

Rather than contradict the officials, Trump tweeted Wednesday that it's the media behind the push for a more sustained shutdown to defeat his reelection.

"The LameStream Media is the dominant force in trying to get me to keep our Country closed as long as possible in the hope that it will be detrimental to my election success," he wrote. "The real people want to get back to work ASAP. We will be stronger than ever before!"

For more on the coronavirus crisis, see Wednesday's roundup of key developments by Newsday's reporting staff, written by Bart Jones, and a complete list of stories from newsday.com.

Janison: Counterpunching after the bell

Bad habits can survive a contagion, and it's clear that no national emergency gets this commander in chief to quit punctuating pandemic pronouncements with political smears, writes Newsday's Dan Janison.

Such was Trump's hit Tuesday on Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo. The president contorted a 5-year-old state government report, alleging it “rejected buying recommended 16,000 ventilators in 2015 … for a pandemic" and "established death panels and lotteries instead."

Trump's fabrication stems from an internet posting by former Lt. Gov. Betsy McCaughey, who during the Affordable Care Act debate a decade ago peddled canards about "death panels" and "rationed care."

$2 trillion transfusion

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said the $2 trillion emergency coronavirus relief package negotiated by the Senate and White House will send at least $40 billion and probably "much more" to New York State, reports Newsday's Tom Brune. The Senate passed the bill 96-0 late Wednesday night; the House is expected to follow suit Friday.

The $40 billion includes cash payments to millions of New Yorkers and hundreds of billions of dollars for unemployed workers, hospitals, big and small businesses, and state and local government and agencies. It doesn’t include additional funds that require applications, such as emergency hospital funds, small business loans, big business bailouts and unemployment compensation.

“It’s just a first down payment,” said Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.). “It’s really important that people realize we are in triage now. We are trying to meet the most urgent needs first.”

Though Cuomo complained the package gives too little money to the state, Schumer and Gillibrand agreed it was the best deal for immediate needs Democrats could reach with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and the White House.

What's in it for Trump?

When agreement on the rescue package was announced, Democrats said they had won agreement on language to block Trump, other government officials and their families from receiving assistance for their businesses from a $500 billion fund to be administered by the Treasury Department.

Businesses that are owned or partly owned by "the President, the Vice President, the head of an Executive department, or a Member of Congress; and the spouse, child, son-in-law, or daughter-in-law" won't be eligible, the bill says.

But The New York Times reports Trump’s companies would not be barred from benefiting from other elements of the bill.

For example, certain hotel owners, even those employing thousands of people, will be eligible for small-business loans. The Trump Organization also could benefit from the $15 billion change to the tax code won by restaurants and retailers.

Plea to 'wartime president' for more ammo

Trump has likened himself to a “wartime President" as the nation fights an "invisible enemy" in COVID-19 and the virus that causes it But while his predecessors in times of crisis focused on implementing a centralized federal response, Trump largely has called on state and local governments to institute their own response plans, reports Newsday's Laura Figueroa Hernandez.

The president has resisted bipartisan calls to use his broad powers under the Defense Production Act to mandate companies to produce much-needed ventilators and medical protective gear. He argues such a move is unnecessary as some major companies offer to ramp up production.

But Cuomo, fellow governors and major medical organizations are far from alone in calling on Trump to use the act to boost and speed production. So has a prominent Republican, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas. 

“I don’t want to see doctors having to make a choice of who gets to live and who has to die because they don’t have the equipment to save their lives,” Cruz said.

What else is happening:

  • Trump boasted in a tweet that over eight days, the U.S. "now does more testing than what South Korea (which has been a very successful tester) does over an eight week span." That's misleading. Both countries have topped 350,000 coronavirus tests, but South Korea has less than one-sixth the U.S. population. According to USA Today, South Korea has tested roughly 1 in every 144 of its residents, compared with the U.S. ratio of about 1 in every 900.
  • Defense Secretary Mark Esper has signed an order freezing for 60 days the movements of all U.S. troops overseas or set to go abroad, citing the pandemic, CNN reported.
  • Trump found humor when GOP Sen. Mitt Romney, a political nemesis, went into self-isolation on Sunday because of coronavirus exposure worries. Trump played it for laughs again when Romney's tests came back negative. "This is really great news! I am so happy I can barely speak," Trump tweeted. "He may have been a terrible presidential candidate and an even worse U.S. Senator, but he is a RINO" — Republican in name only — "and I like him a lot!"
  • Bernie Sanders' campaign says he's willing to go forward with an April debate that was planned tentatively before the pandemic. But Joe Biden, the likely Democratic presidential nominee, said Wednesday: "My focus is just dealing with this crisis right now … I think we’ve had enough debates. I think we should get on with this."
  • Foreign ministers from the G-7 nations failed to agree on a joint statement on fighting coronavirus Wednesday after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo insisted on calling it the “Wuhan virus,” The Washington Post reported. The other nations viewed the name, offensive to some, as needlessly divisive at a time when international cooperation is required.
  • Former President Barack Obama on Wednesday urged Americans to continue social distancing to stem the spread of coronavirus, a noticeable difference in tone from his successor. In a tweet, Obama shared a news story about overwhelmed health care workers in New York hospitals.

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